Archive for the ‘My Life Online’ Category

photo 1(1)Welcome to a new year here at Wood’s Stock! As always, January brings with it some changes to the site, most notably the updates to the archive now that last year’s long-term project is over.

First the bad news.

Normally I would use this space to announce my new ongoing project for the year but after A Quarter Century, My Life Online and Treat Yo Self I’m sorry to report that I will not be launching a new venture…yet.

I was considering a few different ideas but I didn’t feel 100% about any of them. And with my new gig as a contributor to the EW Community and my work with the Utah Screenwriters Project only about halfway done I was worried about having the time to fully commit to a new project (there’s also the issue of my day job, which takes up a fair amount of time. Gotta pay dem bills.)

So I’m hopeful that before long we’ll get something up and going for 2015. But fear not, because there’s still going to be plenty of new content dropping here on Wood’s Stock, including new movie and television reviews, free Ukulele music, photo collections and other scattered nonsense.

Now for some shopkeeping items. If you look at the top of the Wood’s Stock homepage you’ll notice that the My Life Online tab is no more. I love that project and I hate to get rid of its visibility, but I needed to make space for the new Treat Yo Self tab, which provides a nice one-stop shop if you want to catch up on any of the posts you missed or read the whole adventure from my barbershop shave with Adam to my sugar body scrub with Liz.

And as always, under the Articles tab you can find links to the A Quarter Century and now the My Life Online project. And don’t forget to check out the latest One Wood Uke music (including a brand new cover of The Head and The Heart’s Fire/Fear) and if you haven’t yet, make sure to read the excerpt from Committing, which turned 1 year old last month.

Thanks for reading guys. I appreciate your support and feedback.

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Hello everyone and welcome to a new year of Wood’s Stock. The completion of My Life Online and the launch of Committing has made for some great changes here on the site, and I’m also excited to announce my new annual project for 2014.

First off, if you look at the top of your screen you’ll notice three new Wood’s Stock menu options. With My Life Online coming to an end last month, I’ve put together the entire collection of posts in one easy-to-access location. All 12 My Life Online chapters can be accessed there, with excerpts from each post and links to the full versions. Unfortunately, this required that the A Quarter Century menu be deleted, but that collection can still be found under the “Articles” menu.

I just want to say that I received the most amazing feedback throughout the course of the MLO project, including many hilarious personal experiences that readers shared with me from their own online dating histories. I may have quit, but good luck to everyone out there still giving online dating a shot.

(shameless plug) At the bottom of that collection there’s all the standard social media sharing options, should you feel so inclined (/shameless plug).

Next, I’ve done the same thing for all of my One Wood Uke posts, which can also be found in the top menu bar. I’ll be updating that page as I finish more projects (I’m working on something right now, and I plan on putting out a love song for Valentine’s Day) so the latest ukulele songs and videos will always be at the top of that page. Also, you can still get a free download of all of the songs on bandcamp, because why not?

Third, on the far right of the menu bar you can find the permanent information page for my book ‘Committing‘, which is available in both paperback and kindle versions. Also, that page includes the full excerpt of the book’s second chapter that I posted a few months back, so if you know someone who might be interested feel free to steer them that way (/shameless plug).

And finally, I’m excited to announce that my ongoing project for 2014 will be a series of posts titled Treat Yo Self. Each month, I will invite a friend along for a special experience (e.g. hot stone massage, acupuncture) and afterward I’ll interview them over lunch and  review the experience, including info on how to Treat Yo Self, should you feel so inclined.

Watch for the first installment of that series on Monday, in which me and Adam Blair will be heading to Ray’s Barbershop for a classic hot lather shave. *Note: I’ll be looking for people to treat throughout the year, so if there’s something you’ve always wanted to do shoot me a message.

And as always, thanks for reading.

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Erin: A fellow INTJ. That’s rare.
Me: The few, the proud, the misanthropic 🙂 How long have you played the accordion?
Erin: Um…since 2011. Yeah, I think that’s right.
Me: Awesome. That’s on my list of dream instruments, between the banjo and the bagpipes.
Erin: I want to play the banjo too. I love the bagpipes, but don’t have the lung capacity. That’s why I went with accordion.
Me: Yeah, I’ve heard the pipes are brutal. Still, I feel like I owe it to my Irish ancestors.
Erin: Irish eh? I’ve got Scottish ancestors, and British but no Irish.
Me: Well, I owe it to my ancestors to war with you over Protestantism then, but you can’t always please those guys 🙂
Erin: Protestants rule, Catholics drool! (Except for the new Pope. He’s pretty cool.)
Me: Right! Seriously, Francis is such a class act. Did you see he made TIME’s Person of the Year? I was really worried they were gonna go with Miley.
Erin: Oh man, I agree. So you play the ukulele, anything else?
Me: I play the piano and a little guitar. I used to play the saxophone (and still could, technically) but it’s been a long time. What about you? Anything besides the accordion?
Erin: Piano, guitar, a very little violin, ukulele and percussion. Now to the important stuff: what are your top 5 favorite bands?
Me: Oh geez, that question sucks 🙂 Um, Blind Pilot, Guster, Carbon Leaf, The Civil Wars and…Ra Ra Riot? Your turn.
Erin: Beatles, Weezer, Said the Whale, the Shins, The Hush Sound and Woodkid. So many more…

And that was it, the last Tinder conversation I will ever have. We were reaching the natural point where an IRL meet up would be suggested.

You like Weezer? Let’s discuss Weezer over a cup of coffee. One of your profile pictures is a Star Trek halloween costume. Let’s discuss whether Original Series or TNG is superior over a cup of coffee. You have hair? Let’s discuss the merits of conditioner over a cup of coffee.

There was just one problem, I wasn’t interested. So sue me.

I’m sure Erin is a perfectly fine person. She plays the ukulele so she’s clearly an enlightened soul. But after a year of these largely repetitive non-conversations, I’m exhausted. I’m tired of hearing about someone’s five favorite bands/movies/books or long explanations of their profile picture, taken during the six months they built orphanages in Cambodia (as if to say “oh, you don’t want to meet me? Well I’m a better person than you anyway.” Everyone is passive aggressive in the internet age).

But even though I’ve largely become numb to the concept of human emotion, and skeptical of the advantages of social interaction altogether, there was a part of me that felt motivated to push the conversation with Erin just see if I could score one last date before closing the curtain on My Life Online.

I was actually about to suggest Saturday brunch (because nothing suggests irresistible masculinity like Eggs Benedict) when I realized I didn’t know what city she lived in. A quick glance at her profile informed me that she was 41 miles away.

Now, as a rule, I don’t believe in the concept of deal-breakers. So what if they’ve kept a lifetime’s collection of toenail clippings in a jar by their bed? Who cares if they were acquitted on six counts of manslaughter due to a technicality? The only question that matters, really, is whether or not I’m interested and feel relatively safe from physical harm in their presence (although there’s a degree of flexibility in that last one).

But a one-hour drive (in inversion weather, no less) to have an awkward first date with a person I’m not actually interested in for the sole purpose of generating fodder for my blog? That seems bad for both of us. Oh, and did I mention the drive would culminate in Utah County, the worst geographic location on Earth?

Yeah, call me shallow, but “pass.”

And that, in a nutshell, is my experience with online dating. It’s not that I’ve wanted for opportunities. I’ve “matched” on Tinder, my pictures have been “liked” on Match.com, I’ve been “viewed” on OkCupid and from time to time I would receive a message on my niche online dating website (hint: It wasn’t Purrsonals.com, the dating site for cat lovers).

The problem, ultimately, has been me, and my personal disinterest in the act of dating. Yes, a relationship sounds nice. Yes, I feel like I’m “ready” for love. But if you approach online dating expecting the internet to cure your social weaknesses you are bound for disappointment.

It still comes down, as it does IRL, to your capacity to engage and communicate with another human being. Online dating can remove, or at least weaken, certain barriers, but the task still falls on you to put yourself out there, seek meaningful connections and follow through with persistence and patience.

To borrow from familiar idiom, online dating can lead a horse to water, but it can’t make him drink.

That’s tough when you’re a horse who is cripplingly introverted. There is a part of me that actively wants to die alone, that wants to spend every moment of my life bereft of meaningful relationships. Why? Because there is a social construct that marriage and love is an inevitability, despite ample quantifiable evidence to the contrary. To some extent, I want to prove that construct wrong. I want to be the exception. I want to point at myself and say “here is a man, by all measurements a typical, average man, whom no woman would marry.”

Because I’m angry. I’m angry that my first love felt nothing for me and my second couldn’t be bothered to edit me into her plans. I’m angry at the entire female gender for the vapid men they consistently choose instead of me. And I’m angry at myself for being guilty of the same superficial judgments as the women who reject me.

And yet for all my cynicism I remain a romantic. I believe in “True Love,” whatever that may be. I believe that one day, some random series of events will place me in a position where no amount of bad luck and introversion can protect me from the irresistible appeal of some beautiful creature.

I can’t imagine what I’ll ever say (or type, I suppose) in that scenario, how the words that have so often escaped me before will suddenly find themselves tumbling out of my head. But they will. And through a process that baffles me, that conversation will turn to dinner, which will turn into a series of dinners, made for two, stretched out over a lifetime filled with joy and heartache.

It could happen this year. Who knows, it could happen tomorrow.

And so we reach the end of My Life Online, a year-long investment into the world of digital romance that has proved to be a failure. I’ve chronicled that failure here for all of you, but what I did not include were the similar experiences that played out day after day in the “real world” that ultimately yielded the same results.

In that sense online dating, it would seem, was not all that different from traditional dating. And if I were to suggest a single takeaway point from this endeavor it would be to reaffirm that despite the stigma attached to online romance, it really is just another example of regular life finding its way into a digital form, good and bad, warts and all.

I’ve been looking forward to putting this project to bed, but before I do I thought I’d give a ruling on the various services I used in case anyone reading is still sitting on the fence.

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Tinder

Oh Tinder, how you tease.

By far, the most beautiful people are on Tinder. It can actually be a bit jarring to shift from the membership of a traditional dating site to the rolodex of beautiful smiling faces on Tinder, where dancers for professional sports teams and all the other women who would never talk to you IRL are one “match” away, like a carrot dangling just out of reach.

But that’s also the problem with Tinder. It’s more of a time-wasting game than an actual dating site and no one very few people actually take it seriously. Sure, I have friends who have met each other and gotten married through Tinder, I also have a friend who is a medium for dead spirits. The point: life is crazy, don’t get your hopes up.

Odds are if you’re the kind of person who might use Tinder, you’ve already used Tinder. If not, go for Star Wars Angry Birds instead.

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Match.com

I joined Match in August after months of frustration with my initial subscription-based niche online dating service (hint: It wasn’t FitnessDates.com). Match proudly boasts of being the “biggest” online dating service and purports to have a superior matching algorithm, which I admit for the first few days results in some intriguing suggestions. But it doesn’t take long before the search runs out of new material and you find yourself cycling through a list of familiar faces, date infinitum, as it were.

Also, despite (or maybe because of) the ~ $20 monthly fee, members aren’t much more willing than those on free sites to have a conversation. Although that could just be limited to the experience of 26-year-old men who are less than 6 feet tall with the word “writer” in their profiles.

You can filter your searches more specifically than free sites, but that’s about the only benefit in the long run.

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PlentyOfFish

It’s hard to explain exactly what, but something about POF.com feels trashy. For one thing it feels like a free service, with a design that comes across like the website version of public restrooms: functional, tidy perhaps, but unwelcoming.

Maybe it’s the fact that no matter what you’re doing on the site, be it chatting with someone or editing your profile, you are constantly bombarded with images of other users. It’s as if the site is saying to you “Hey, I don’t want to interrupt that discussion about feudal society you’re having with Claire, but have you met Sarah? And Alex and Julie and Britney and Trisha and Morgan?”

It’s free, so you’ve got nothing to lose, but In my humble opinion you’re better off using…

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OkCupid

Comparing OkCupid and POF is like comparing your neighborhood grocer to Walmart at 2 a.m. The selection is similar and the prices are comparable, but one provides a much more comfortable shopping experience.

All things considered, OkCupid is well-designed for a free site, with search and mail features that rival Match for quality and far exceeded those of my original niche online dating service (hint: it wasn’t EquestrianCupid.com) for which I paid $10 each month. That was money wasted, whereas the Free-99 price tag of Cupid feels like a steal.

If you’re looking at going digital, I would suggest you start here.

And so my friends, I bid you good luck. As for me, I’m going to unplug for a while.

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On second thought, maybe I’ll hold onto Tinder. What’s the harm?

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Two weeks ago I took a trip to New York for some graduate school shopping and while I was there I stopped in at the Museum of Sex, affectionately referred to as MoSex (Mo’ Problems, amirite?).

MoSex, located off of Madison Square Park, is dedicated to the cultural significance of human sexuality. It consists of several floors of exhibits, a bar and lounge and a gift shop featuring the kind of items you would expect at a museum dedicated to the cultural significance of human sexuality.

The museum is more than just rocking beds and phallic art (though it has those too, natch). The top floor is comprised of an interesting exhibit on sexuality and reproduction in the animal kingdom (did you know there are single-cell creatures with as many as 7 genders? Neither did I) which focuses mostly on the more atypical habits in nature, such as male sea horses giving birth, ubiquitous self-gratification among primates and Roy and Silo, the two male Central Park Zoo penguins who built a nest together and tried to hatch a little rock-baby. Their story was also transitioned into the children’s book “And Tango Makes Three,” which is as adorable as you would expect a book about two gay penguins raising a baby would be.

Sidenote: perhaps the 2014 sequel to My Life Online should be my adventures with an imaginary rock girlfriend, “And Trisha Makes Two.” /Sidenote.

But the most fascinating part of MoSex — and the part that relates to MLO — is the “Universe of Desire” exhibit, which is based on the research of Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam, who collected and analyzed internet search data from July 2009 to July 2010 and published their findings in the book “A Billion Wicked Thoughts.”

As the puppets of Avenue Q have made abundantly clear, the internet is for porn, and not surprisingly Ogas and Gaddam found that of the more than 400 million internet searches they gathered, roughly 55 million (or 13 percent) were for some type of erotic content.

The exhibit breaks down these searches, ranking specific terms by popularity. “Breasts” were number 4, separate from “small breasts” at number 81. “Buttocks” came in at number 23 and “feet” ranked 54th.

Many of the terms I had never even heard of. For example, there is, evidently, an entire sub-genre of humiliation pornography in which a naked man is ogled and ridiculed by clothed women. I’m not entirely sure who would be into that, but I’ve never really understood the feet thing either (my brother used to joke that mid-90s singer Jewel had great feet. At least I think it was a joke).

Universe of Desire also included installations on the rise of the sext. A transcript of Anthony Wiener’s extra-marital Facebook chats was displayed, as was an email exchange between two coworkers that was meant to be private before it was accidentally reply-all’d, the horror of every intra-office romance writ large for the world to see.

From the museum website:

“Type. Swipe. Search. Upload. Download. Post. Stream. These are the new verbs of desire. Our most intimate thoughts, fantasies, and urges are now transmitted via electronic devices to rapt audiences all over the world. These transmissions — from sexts to webcam masturbation feeds — are anonymous yet personal, individual yet collective, everywhere and nowhere, and they are contributing to the largest sexual record to date. In short, desire has gone viral. But what does this mean? And what does it reveal about us?”

Dating, too, has gone viral. Online relationship sites love to tout that half of all new pairings begin online, though I assume that claim — much like the claim that half of all marriages end in divorce — is mostly unquantified myth. Regardless of the hard numbers, the way we meet and interact with each other is continually shifting away from “real life,” and it is a well-accepted fact that the first thing you do after meeting someone is stalk them on Facebook, comparing their number of friends to your own and digging through years of old photographs to see how they look in all four seasons.

Sex, money, religion and politics are the ever-present subtexts in a modern society that is increasingly digital. We shop online, we vote on computers, we stream sermons and a sea of skin is always only a mouse click away. I don’t know what it means, or what it reveals about us, but it is the pixelated reality of the world we live in.

As it happened, I got back from my New York trip just in time for the latest anti-pornography White House Petition to start gaining steam. A person identified solely as M.G. has a beef with porn, and is asking the government to step in and require service providers to only allow access to adult content if a customer “opts in.” M.G. is not alone and as of Monday 34,000 like-minded individuals had signed on, although one has to wonder if they’ve really considered the near-impossibility of the proposal or the unprecedented government intrusion into the private sector that they’re calling for. (It should also be noted that the vast majority of signatures come from Utah, a state notorious for 1) it’s opposition to pornography and 2) it’s highest-in-the-nation pornography consumption).

Then there was the news last month that Silk Road, a relatively unknown-to-the-lay-person corner of the deep web, had been shut down and its facilitator, known online as the Dread Pirate Roberts had been allegedly arrested. For years the site had served as the Amazon.com of online crime, allowing individuals to purchase everything from illegal drugs to child pornography to assassins in convenient secrecy through the exchange of bitcoin, which functions as the digital equivalent of cash.

I don’t have the technological head to comment on bitcoin or Silk Road, suffice to say that it’s a fascinating example of something that exists unseen in the world around us. If you’re curious, I suggest listening to this podcast by the Stuff You Should Know guys.

But there’s the lighter side of the internet as well, even when it comes to sexuality. I recently came across the site GhostSingles.com, a satirical online dating service that plays at arranging relationships between the dead. If I search as a male ghost, seeking a female ghost, between the ages of 18 and 200 who died “tragically,” I get six matches, including deadgrrrl, whose profile reads as the following:

Hi guys! My real name is Dorothy, and I’m from West Virginia. Do I say where I’m from as where I was born or where I died LOL?

ANYWAY, I used to like to sew, and miss it so bad! I also miss honey butter like nothing else.

I used to miss my cat until she died. That was like seventy years ago, and then she was fun to have back around. Now she disappears for like a decade at a time, then comes back for a few years. Don’t ask me what a dead cat’s doing. Hey, I thought they had 9 lives! lol!!

Anyway, shoot me a message! XXOO

The take-away message? It’s nice to no there’s a niche online dating service out there if this project kills me.

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I remember the first time I heard the phrase “catfish.” It was in early 2011, before Manti Teo and the MTV Docu-series that made the term a household expression. I was talking movies with a friend who mentioned a crazy documentary he had recently watched, in which a man began to doubt the veracity of his online girlfriend and piece by piece watched as an elaborately-constructed fantasy came tumbling down.

He was careful to avoid spoilers, insisting that I watch the movie immediately. But before I could, the idea of “catfishing” – or manufacturing a false online persona – became ubiquitous and the gig was up. Once you know what a “catfish” is, you don’t have to watch Catfish to know it’s about a catfish.

But then last month while I was in Hawaii, I happened upon an episode of the MTV series – in which the original filmmakers assist would-be online romances in a case of the week – and curiosity killed the cat. I came home and immediately grabbed a copy of the 2010 Sundance Documentary.

Catfish revolves around Nev, a New York-based photographer who begins a professional friendship with a child artist named Abby after she sketches one of his photographs. She lives in a small town, so Nev happily provides her with images from his travels to give her new and challenging subjects.

In time Nev is absorbed into the Facebook circles of Abby’s family, cultivating distinct relationships with her mother, father and siblings, including her older sister, a dancer/singer named Megan. A romantic relationship blooms between Nev and Megan, but inconsistencies begin to pop up, launching Nev into a bizarre mystery as he tries to determine who it is he’s actually talking to. Without giving too much away, it’s alarming to see the lengths people can and will go to in order to fabricate an entire world.

Now, before you get excited, this month’s edition of My Life Online is not about my encounters with a catfish. But after watching the film I couldn’t help but wonder about the various persons with whom I’ve conversed during the course of this project. Were they who they really claimed to be? Was I? I may not have fashioned a human being out of thin (digital) air, but do I represent myself 100 percent accurately online? Does anyone?

By and large I am a proponent of the democratization of the internet but it helps to remember that as the web grows bigger there are more dark corners created. I recently stumbled across an advertisement for an online dating website called Ashley Madison, which caters to people looking for anonymous, extra-marital relationships. You almost have to give the site credit for its blatant honesty. Its home page features a beautiful woman pressing a secretive finger to her lips and the site’s tagline says, unabashedly, “Life is short. Have an Affair.” (Hint: Ashley Madison wasn’t my niche online dating service).

After Catfish, my internet obsession become the blog 40 Days of Dating, in which two hip, New York-based graphic designers decide to put a pin in their years-long platonic friendship and try a publicly-documented dating experiment for 40 days. They agree to a number of ground rules – they must see each other every day, they must take one weekend trip, they must visit a couples therapist each week – and at the end of each day they document the latest developments by responding to a simple questionnaire, accompanied by the kind of colorful, popping visuals you would expect from two hip, New York-based graphic designers.

The entire production has a very glossy, manufactured feel and the two characters are conveniently cast in perfect dramatic archetypes – he’s the player who can’t commit, she’s the romantic willing to give it a chance – whose character arcs ebb and flow at very convenient plot points. I’m not saying their story isn’t genuine, but it seems a little too tailor-made for mass consumption, especially considering the book and movie deals the pair just scored.

Still, it’s an interesting (albeit frustrating) read that gives you a little peek behind the he said/she said curtain of modern relationships and the writers – who are professional content creators mind you – offer a few interesting nuggets into the grand conversation of love.

For example, a recurring question through 40 Days is whether we cast ourselves in roles that we then play out in perpetuity, to our own detriment. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, since my character in The Ben Show has always been the loveable nerd who doesn’t get the girl. I’m essentially Duckie from “Pretty In Pink.” I couldn’t get a date in high school, I couldn’t get a date in college and now, while navigating subscription-based websites for people whose express purpose is to meet and build relationships, I still can’t get a date.

My interactions online follow an alarming pattern that would be humorous if it wasn’t so inescapable. It goes something like this: “meet” a girl, flirtatious banter, flirtatious banter, flirtatious banter, extend a date offer, crickets. Rinse and repeat.

Take Lindsey, who we met last month on Tinder. For one week we had a very engaging conversation. We talked about the places we’d traveled to. We talked about our work. We talked about our favorite music, hobbies, calendar seasons and films. Then, at 3:15 p.m. on September 20, I asked her if she’d want to meet up for a cup of coffee and never heard from her again.

Same thing happened with Taylor, a med-school student at the University of Utah. She wants to be an OB/GYN and we joked about how her life was going to be exactly like a hospital-set television show, a la Scrubs or Grey’s Anatomy, full of love triangles and workplace shenanigans. I suggested lunch. The conversation flat-lined.

The other take-away I got from 40 Days was the Jung Typology Test, which I found insightful. According to Jung, I am an INTJ personality type – Introverted, Intuitive, Thinking, Judging – which means I’m introverted (yes) and rely on logic more than emotion (yes).

People often don’t believe me when I say I’m introverted. They assume I must be extroverted because I’m loud, opinionated and like to perform in public. They assume this because they don’t actually know what “introversion” and “extroversion” mean.

In a nutshell, extroverts are energized by social interaction whereas introverts are exhausted by it. My own particular brand of introversion, INTJ, can be especially deceptive, since logical thinking is sometimes perceived as confidence. To explain this better, I give you an exerpt of an INTJ description by Marina Margaret Heiss.

“To outsiders, INTJs may appear to project an aura of “definiteness”, of self-confidence. This self-confidence, sometimes mistaken for simple arrogance by the less decisive, is actually of a very specific rather than a general nature; its source lies in the specialized knowledge systems that most INTJs start building at an early age. … INTJs know what they know, and perhaps still more importantly, they know what they don’t know.”

I particularly like that second sentence. According to Heiss, it is not me that is arrogant, it is you who can’t make up your mind.

But then we get to the part about romantic relationships, where the negative aspects of being an INTJ really start to show. It should be noted, Heiss isn’t telling me anything I didn’t already know about myself, but there is something comforting about seeing my personality flaws laid out on an academic slab. Turns out I’m not broken, it’s just Psychology 101.

 “Personal relationships, particularly romantic ones, can be the INTJ’s Achilles heel. While they are capable of caring deeply for others (usually a select few), and are willing to spend a great deal of time and effort on a relationship, the knowledge and self-confidence that make them so successful in other areas can suddenly abandon or mislead them in interpersonal situations.”

“This happens in part because many INTJs do not readily grasp the social rituals; for instance, they tend to have little patience and less understanding of such things as small talk and flirtation (which most types consider half the fun of a relationship). To complicate matters, INTJs are usually extremely private people, and can often be naturally impassive as well, which makes them easy to misread and misunderstand. Perhaps the most fundamental problem, however, is that INTJs really want people to make sense. This sometimes results in a peculiar naivete’, paralleling that of many Fs — only instead of expecting inexhaustible affection and empathy from a romantic relationship, the INTJ will expect inexhaustible reasonability and directness.”

I could spend all day on that paragraph but for today’s purposes I want to note the beginning of the second paragraph, where it talks about how we INTJs have no patience for small talk and flirtation. The rote mechanics of modern dating has always been a stumbling block for me. There’s been many occasions where I’ve said that dying alone is worth never having to go on a first date, which is timely because I went on a first date last week.

Online dates are essentially blind dates that you set up yourself. You have a little time to exchange some pleasantries (which may or may not be completely false) but you’re still essentially confining yourself to a period of human contact with a complete and utter stranger, for better or worse.

My date with Julie actually was relatively pleasant, like a “no cavities” dentist appointment. We both work downtown so we met for lunch and I introduced her to the joyous rapture that is butternut squash soup. We swapped used-to-live-in-New-York stories and I had a chance to brush off my rusty Portuguese – that’s right ladies, I’m bilingual, form an orderly line.

But I still found myself questioning the fundamental motivations of my gender. A 45-minute lunch didn’t exactly fill me with an unyielding desire to see her again. Should it? I have no idea. There’s an old joke that goes something like this: Anyone who thinks first dates are fun has either never gone on a first date, or never had fun.

I have never, not once in my entire life, “gotten a number” in the traditional sense of meeting someone at a party/club/coffee shop/book burning/etc. Most men scoff at this as an inability to close but I ask why would I? Why do any of us? On the other side of that phone number is, at best, a blind first date and, at worst, a humiliating rejection.

But apparently, as described by Heiss, most men actually enjoy that nonsense. They enjoy the chase, the forced asinine chit-chat about number of siblings and hobbies, the attempts at humor and the insincerity. They think it’s fun, and I just think that doesn’t make any sense.

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Have you ever come across something for the very first time – a word, a song, a concept – and, having discovered it, realized that it’s everywhere around you?

For example, I only recently watched The Usual Suspects and no sooner had the final credits rolled that I found myself hearing references, seemingly everywhere, to Kaiser Soze. In fact, I read one such reference this morning in TIME magazine.

Or take humus, which I initially consumed at a pot luck work Christmas party in 2008. “What is this rapturous creation?” I asked (paraphrasing). “It’s humus,” the creator replied, with more than a hint of contempt in her voice for the uncultured rube she was conversing with.

Imagine my surprise then, when I realized that every gallery stroll, dinner party and grocery store in America features crushed chickpeas blended with olive oil and other spices. Weirder still, I had seen the movie Rat Race dozens of time but never grasped Jon Lovitz’ line, when he compares $2 million to “a lifetime supply of humus.” I could quote that dialogue, but I didn’t know what it meant.

Or take the last week of October, when I first encountered the word “Sapiosexual” on a woman’s Match.com profile. When I see a foreign word whilst using the computer I habitually open a tab and google the definition — because why not? – and was doubly curious because I naturally assumed it referred to something kinky, having discovered it on an online dating site.

Turns out “sapiosexual,” or the optional variant “sapiophile,” refers to a person who is attracted to intelligence above all other characteristic traits.

“Hmmm, never heard that one before,” I thought, before going my way on the information super highway. But since then I have encountered alleged sapiosexuals or references to sapiosexuality at least once per day. It’s apparently a very popular trope people use when describing themselves to the opposite gender.

This is great news for me, since I consider myself to be an intellectual person, or at the very least I’m smarter than I am muscular and wealthy, which one assumes are the other leading characteristic traits women are attracted to.

And yet I’m dubious of these women’s sapiophilic claims. The profile that served as a catalyst for this vernacular discovery was that of a woman taking a mirror selfie in a mini-skirt while most of the others I’ve seen feature women in low-cut tops posing in duckface behind a pair of hipster glasses.

Now, I’m not saying that women who are attracted to smart men don’t wear mini-skirts or low-cut tops – who would want to live in that world, amiright? – but I am most certainly implying an inverse correlation between the frequency of duckface and level of intelligence.

Mostly, however, I’m skeptical of anything people say about themselves online, since people lie and on the internet no one knows you’re a dog. So I decided to engage one of these women, to shed some light on the finer points of sapiosexuality.

Me: I see you’re a sapiophile. How exactly would you expect a man to demonstrate his intelligence?

I didn’t get a reply, but rest assured I will continue to explore this phenomenon further. I think the next sapiosexual I come across I’ll just message with a series of mathematical formulas and/or Isaac Asimov’s three laws of robotics.

After 9 months of this nonsense, I’ve found that my outgoing messages have lost some of their conversational prater in lieue of more direct inquiries. I’d like to think that’s because I’m of an inquisitive mind and not just because I’m a jaded skeptic who hates everyone and everything. For example, I recently matched on Tinder with a beautiful 25-year-old named Lindsey and sent the following:

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When I started writing this post, I hadn’t heard back from Lindsey. But in the time it took me to finish I received a reply so I suppose there’s some potential there.

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But I haven’t heard back in a while from a woman named Tammy, although that’s probably my fault for not ending with a question. Online dating is a lot like improv, only instead of “Yes, and…” you have to remember to always say “…how about you?”

Tammy: Hey I loved your profile and am interested in learning more about you. 🙂

Me: Hi! So you went from blonde to brunette (this was part of her profile), from an academic perspective, are you having less fun?

Tammy: Actually, I’m having more fun because it is such a big change. What about you? (see) Have you always loved the ukulele? When did you first begin to play?

Me: Yes, I’ve always loved the ukulele but I’ve only been playing for about two years. I first got into it because I moved to New York and couldn’t take my piano so I needed something portable I could play around on.

Tammy: What part of New York did you intern in? I recently got back from a vacation there and quite enjoyed it.

Me: I interned in Manhattan but lived in Queens.

Now yes, before you say it, if I wanted to keep talking to her I should have said something like “What did you do on your trip? Did you see any shows on Broadway? Did you go to Grand Central? Did you see a dead body like I did my first day in the city?” but I didn’t want to keep talking to her. Don’t judge, I’m only human.

But props to Tammy for being woman enough to start the conversation. That is an occurrence few and far between. I mean seriously ladies, what happened to that post-gender society you all claim to pushing for? What happened to Lean Forward? I swear, most the time I’m the biggest feminist in the room.

The other day a friend was telling me about how she met her boyfriend. The story began like this:

“He came up to me in a bar and asked me for a light and I told him that I couldn’t talk to him because I don’t talk to men who approach me in bars.”

“Wait,” I interrupted. “What?”

“Yeah. Guys who meet you in bars are creeps.”

“But that’s how you met your boyfriend?”

“Well yeah, he persisted, and he was the exception.”

“So how is an exception supposed to meet you if he happens to see you in a bar you’re both at?”

“I don’t know. He should wait till he sees me somewhere else.” 

I think the Catch-22 in that story is obvious enough that I don’t have to analyze it in detail. The other thing I find offensive as a man about the scenario is the notion that men are creeps until proven otherwise. I’m not saying that’s a false notion, but it sets up a losing game where we men begin with negative points and are only allowed to continue if we “persist” long enough to win the favor of our liege, like some kind of jester or dancing monkey.

Seriously, women of the world, hear me. There has to be a better way.

But back to My Life Online.

For a week or two I’ve been chatting with a nice red-headed bisexual named Rose. Our conversation started out ordinarily enough but has sinced veered off into a still-unfinished tangent about our shared Irish ancestry.

Now, I’m a big believer in the mantra of “to each his own” but even in optimum circumstances I doubt my mother would approve of Rose. Besides her sexual orientation – which I’d love to ask her about, from an academic perspective – Rose’s profile picture is a high-angle selfie of her in what appears to be only a bra and towel. A bold choice, IMHO, as the way to first present yourself to the online world.

I’m also beginning to realize that online dating functions as a stepping stone for many recent divorcees. I assume the logic is that they’re not quite ready to venture out into the world, so they use the chatting services provided by sites like Match and OkCupid to flex their social muscles in safety.

I assume that was the case with Stephanie, who describes herself as artsy, divorced and non-religious and whose occupation is “creature creator.” Our conversation took a strange turn rather quickly.

Me: What exactly is a creature creator?

Her: I do special effects make up and costume design and production for the film industry and larpers. I’ll sculpt a concept, mold it, cast it, and paint it. I just call myself a creature creator because it is much shorter.

Me: And cooler. I would imagine it’s tough to find industry work in Utah?

Her: It hasn’t been hard for me so far. I’m working on a music video tomorrow.

Her: I’m not looking forward to dating. I haven’t been on a date for a long time.

Her: That probably sounded wrong. I just wish it was easier to find someone I’m compatible with without a bunch of first dates.

I was a little thrown by this. I assumed she was talking in the abstract, but tone isn’t conveyed well via text. At this point I was already eyeing the door.

Me: For sure, first dates are excruciating. You’d think our society would have evolved beyond them by now 🙂

Her: I’m glad you knew what I meant by my statement. I didn’t mean I wouldn’t want a first date with you.

I know that I’ve long advocated for women to take a less passive role in dating, but this is not the way to do it. Plus, any continued interaction with Stephanie would have inevitably led to an increase of larping in my life. I’m not sure I’m ready for that.

Another way to not do it? Whatever it was Julie intended by the message I received on September 12.

Julie: Hello, you caught my eye :$

I grew up in the internet age. I quite literally live in front of a computer screen. I have absolutely no idea what emotion a colon-dollar sign is supposed to convey.

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A few months back I got a message from a girl whose name I don’t remember. We’ll call her Tiffany; no, we’ll call her Sarah.

Sarah has muscular dystrophy and on her profile she talked about how most guys are typically unwilling to look past her physical traits and get to know her on a personal level, which is why she had decided to try online dating in the hopes nurturing a relationship beyond superficial qualifications.

I’d like to believe I’m slightly more evolved than the knuckle-dragging philistines of my gender, but I admit that my first reaction upon seeing Sarah’s smiling face in my inbox was not the most chivalrous. But I stayed my hand, telling myself that there but for the grace of God go I and that I owed it to My Life Online to reply. Who’s to say that she and I would not have similar interests and, physical challenges aside, would not be charmingly compatible on an emotional level?

Sarah’s experiences were certainly, unquestionably, more tragic than mine, but at the end of the day she was looking for the same thing all of us online dating drones are: a genuine connection with another human being in a world where the traditional social models have failed us.

I drafted some form of a response, introducing myself and asking some benign questions about the music she likes or something of that ilk (I tried to locate the actual conversation but it seems to have disappeared).

She never replied.

Now, I would never suggest that any girl with muscular dystrophy should be thrilled to receive a message from me; that would be childish, arrogant, and insulting. Assuming no ill will, there’s any number of possible scenarios that would have prevented her from replying to me, for example, she may have stumbled upon a fulfilling relationship in the interim between her initial message and my response.

Still, I couldn’t help but see some irony in a woman making a request that men exercise patience and get to know her as an individual as opposed to a collection of physical flaws, who then decided that I wasn’t worth talking to. Not that I blame her either, I’m a hot mess sometimes.

Exceptions abound, but in broad, simple terms women just don’t reply to men online anywhere near the rate to which men attempt to contact women. And who can blame them? Men are pigs, particularly those who lurk in the dark recesses of internet anonymity.

Since starting this project I have been privy to countless firsthand accounts of less-than-flattering online dating experiences from friends and acquaintances, with the man typically at fault. For example, there was the recent story of a guy who made my friend drive two hours to meet him, then another hour through the mountains for a burger, at which point he disclosed that he had forgotten his wallet and she would be picking up the tab. On the way home, he asked her to stop and buy him a Slurpee, which she did.

It’s not the worst example of human behavior, and you could argue (I did) that her first mistake was agreeing to drive to him for a first date (always make the guy come to you, ladies, but meet them at neutral location), but it illustrates why I may be experiencing such colossal failure online, besides the obvious explanation that women simply find my uninteresting.

They’ve been through this before. They’ve been stood up, propositioned, mistreated and generally burned by men taller, richer and with better bone structure than myself. So they pass, over and over again.

But Goonies never say die, and neither do I. And so, faced with Act III of My Life Online, I decided it was time to stop goofing around and get serious.

First thing was to get rid of my niche online dating service (hint: it’s not KinkyDatingSite.com) which had proven to be an abysmal failure despite picking my pocket every month. To it I say: Good riddance, you useless, hideously-programmed piece of internet excrement.

But I couldn’t just skate by on the merits of my remaining free online dating sites, and so I turned to the grand-daddy of them all, the apex predator of the online dating world, the pioneer of digital romance: Match.com.

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Signing up for Match was an interesting experience. It runs you through the typical process of uploading photographs (remember to choose images that emphasize your interests and convey that you are not a sexual predator) and describing yourself in vague platitudes (“active,” “social,” “virile,” etc.). But it goes a step further attempting to anticipate your interests by presenting you with pictures of celebrities to select the one most attractive to you (Jessica Alba, of the options given), the wardrobe style you prefer (sundresses, natch) and the body part you notice first on a woman (legs).

It also asks you to select the most appealing among a series of audio samples of women’s voices saying the phrase “Dinner sounds great, I’ll meet you at 7.” This seemed slightly ridiculous to me, although it should be noted that of the 3 options, one was rather husky and another was spoken with a strong southern drawl. I also may have taken it more seriously if the control phrase had been something I was actually used to hearing women say, like “Sounds fun, but I already have plans” or “I’m sorry, do I know you?”

Questionnaire completed, I was ready to yet again embark on a new online dating experience. Match.com, it should be noted, is known for skewing to a younger clientele than it’s chief competitor eHarmony and boasts the largest collection of subscribers of any dating service on the internet. It’s search function has the potential to be hyper-specific, allowing someone to scour the far reaches of the web for a 4’2’’ vegan Sagittarius from Bismark, North Dakota (evidently, there are a few of them), if they are so inclined.

It also boasts a guarantee in which subscribers who pay for at least 6 months in advance are treated to an additional 6 months free if they are unsuccessful at meeting someone through the service. Since I plan on going off the grid for my own personal Walden after this project is completed, I opted for the simple 3-month plan (it also seemed counter-intuitive to pay for 6 months with the pitch of “If we fail to help you, we’ll give you even more time to fail over and over again!”)

Match costs more than your lesser-known niche services, like the one I was previously affiliated with (hint, it’s not SisterWives.us) which in theory filters out the riff-raff of less-than-noble intentions. I say “in theory,” because that argument relies on the notion that unsavory men don’t have disposable income, which isn’t really the world we live in, is it?

Since joining I’ve exchanged a few backs-and-forths with a girl named Carrie, who road bikes, works on the front desk of an accounting firm and whose middle name is the Hawaiian word for “morning star.”

But she prefers Superman to Batman. No one is perfect, I suppose.

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